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Better behaviour assessment for shelter dogs

Better behaviour assessment could be the key to more successful adoptions and reducing the risk of euthanasia for shelter dogs, according to new University of Queensland research.

School of Veterinary Science PhD candidate Liam Clay is collaborating with RSPCA Queensland to make behavioural assessments better at reflecting shelter dogs’ true behaviours, and their adoption suitability.

“Shelters need to find out why dogs have been surrendered; identify dogs with behaviour issues that can include high levels of arousal, fear, anxiety, or aggression before putting them up for adoption; and get reliable information to discover the dog’s true behaviour,” he said.

“Behavioural assessments have been used in shelters in Australia and around the world to identify possible behavioural tendencies to help in the re-homing process, and also identify behavioural problems in dogs surrendered to shelters.

“We look for subtle behavioural cues using short, structured tests at the RSPCA, longer-term monitoring, and adoption survey information.

“We’re comparing in-kennel behaviour with assessment information to recognise early behavioural problems in the shelter which may continue once a dog is re-homed.”

Mr Clay said dogs exhibited behavioural problems for a number of reasons (often related to anxiety, stress, boredom, or fear), and the role of assessments was to discover those behaviours and why the dog might be exhibiting them.

“If we can identify key issues early we can do training to help each dog while it stays in shelter, and better match them with an appropriate forever home for them,” he said.

“By creating more efficient and effective testing we hope to decrease the time a dog will spend in a shelter and minimise their risk of euthanasia.

“We’re now starting our final study, which assesses dogs in society, whether they have been adopted from shelters, come from a breeder or purchased from a previous owner.

“Our aims are to identify whether the assessment methods we’ve established accurately reflects the behaviour of the dog in their home as well as in the shelter.

“Whether you’ve got the perfect pet, are having problems with your dog, or just want to contribute to science, we would love to assess your dog and help you understand them a little better.”

Researchers are seeking dogs older than six months and under 10 years of age, and have been with their family for at least six months.

“Owners will need to first answer some questions on their dog’s behaviour at home, and then we will find a suitable time to assess the dog at the testing location,” he said.

To participate in the study, contact Mr Clay on +61 (0)422 706 076.